Best Western Books

Westerns are one of the most underappreciated literature genres, but don’t let that fool reader: they’re just as interesting as literary fiction or fantasy. Cowboys with honor codes, blood-soaked revenge expeditions, and romances set against a prairie setting are just a few of the themes one will come across in a Western epic.

Because there’s nothing quite like delving into complicated characters living in a world where nature and outlaws reign supreme, the best Western stories have all of those things and so much more.

Nonetheless, the Western is a fantastic genre, with a plethora of books, films, plays, and exposes that appeal to John Fordian sensibilities. Any violence that a gorgeous and temperate man chooses to deal with is appropriate for him.

Only the frontier, hardscrabble setting of Western civilization is required, which has proven to be a luxurious canvas for its search for vibrant characters and subjects. Penn’s book draws on the best Western classics for this story.

The list below includes a wide range of styles, book lengths, and plots. The books on this list are examples of the best that Westerns have to offer, whether readers are lifelong fans or complete beginners of the genre.

1: News of the World

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  • Author: Paulette Jiles
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • Publication Date: October 4, 2016
  • Pages: 220

Book Description: Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd meets a 10-year-old girl kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe five years after the Civil War ends. Kidd decides to accompany the youngster through the hard and merciless plains of Texas when she is forced to return to her aunt and uncle.

The long trek, however, quickly turns into a battle for survival as the traveling partners face human and ecological dangers at every turn.

Book Author: Paulette Jiles is a poet, memoirist, and writer from the United States. Her book News of the World, which was published in 2016, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

Our Opinion: Despite the fact that I am not generally a fan of what I would call “westerns,” I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read. I adored the author’s depiction of the budding friendship.

2: Long Range (A Joe Pickett Novel Book 20)

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  • Author: C. J. Box
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  • Publication Date: March 3, 2020
  • Pages: 367

Book Description: When Joe Pickett is called to assist in the rescue attempts for a grizzly assault victim, he unwillingly departs his territory. One of the grizzly’s survivors When Joe Pickett is called to assist in the rescue attempts for a grizzly assault victim, he unwillingly departs his territory.

Book Author: J. Box is the author of nearly twenty-two New York Times bestseller novels. He was honored with the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009), as well as the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), Macavity Award, Gumshoe Award, Barry Award (twice)

Western Heritage Award for Literature, and the 2017 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Western. The novels have been published in 27 different languages. 

Our Opinion: It’s like catching up with old friends when you read a Joe Pickett novel. I’m looking forward to seeing each new one, but I’m hesitant to read it right through.

3: The School Mistress (Emerson Pass Historical Book 1)

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  • Author: Tess Thompson
  • Publisher: 4kids5cats
  • Publication Date: April 1, 2020
  • Pages: 318

Book Description: An instructor who has never been tested. A generous philanthropist. Will they open their emotions to each other when their attraction becomes undeniable? Quinn Cooper can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.

However, finding work as a schoolmarm in a small frontier town was the only option to save her family from starving in Boston. A stray gunshot frightens the sled horses, throwing her into the snow until she’s rescued by a handsome stranger, which doesn’t help her anxiety.

Book Author: Tess Thompson is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of current and historical Romantic Women’s Fiction. She has approximately 40 books under her belt. When asked to explain her books, she struggled to come up with a phrase that completely summed them up until she came up with Hometowns and Heartstrings.

Our Opinion: I need to read more of this author’s work now that I’ve discovered her. It’s a quick read with a real-life setting. I’m preparing to become a member of her newsletter club.

4: Lonesome Dove: A Novel

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  • Author: Larry McMurtry
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication Date: May 24, 2010
  • Pages: 964

Book Description: Travel to Lonesome Dove, a dusty small Texas town where readers will encounter a colorful cast of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. Lonesome Dove is a book that will make people happy, cry, wonder, and recall. It is profoundly genuine, brilliantly written, and always exciting.

Book Author: Larry McMurtry is the writer of twenty-nine books, notably Lonesome Dove, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He won an Academy Award for his coauthorship of Brokeback Mountain. He is a resident of Archer City, Texas.

Our Opinion: This book is a work of art. It’s enthralling and, to be honest, rather astonishing. It’s not just another western. It’s more than just a book.

5: The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

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  • Author: David McCullough
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication Date: May 5, 2020
  • Pages: 352

Book Description: That’s the case with his new book, The Pioneers, which relates the narrative of the 17th- and 18th-century pioneers who came to the Northwest Territory, which is today Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and much of the Upper Midwest.

The Pioneers is a distinctly American narrative of people whose desire and courage led them to incredible feats, based in part on a rare and little-known collection of diaries and letters by crucial figures.

Book Author: David McCullough has won the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award twice. The National Book Foundation’s Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom have all been bestowed to him.

Our Opinion: This is the author’s second fantastic book. I’ve read a number of novels about this period in American history, but this one stood out. 

6: All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel

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  • Authors: A. W. Wheen & Colin Swatridge
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Publication Date: March 12, 1987
  • Pages: 304

Book Description: This is Paul Bäumer’s testament, who enlists in the German army with his classmates during World War I. With young zeal, they become soldiers. However, under the first bombardment in the trenches, the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught disintegrates.

Through years of visceral agony, Paul stays fast to a single vow: if only he can survive the war, he will fight against the principle of hatred that pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another.

Book Authors: Arthur Wesley Wheen, MM and Two Bars, was a soldier, translator, and museum librarian from Australia. He is best recognized for his English translations of Erich Maria Remarque’s works.

Dr. Colin Swatridge is an A-Level Chief Examiner in the United Kingdom. Also a visiting senior lecturer at four universities in Eastern/Central Europe and a former Open University tutor. 

Our Opinion: Anyone with even a passing interest in WWI should read this book. This book is superb, and it should serve as a reminder to readers of why it is so vital to remember what happened a century ago.

7: Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

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  • Authors: Hampton Sides
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • Publication Date: May 7, 2002
  • Pages: 384

Book Description: Hampton Sides masterfully re-creates this daring invasion in Ghost Soldiers, providing a minute-by-minute narration alongside intimate pictures of the inmates and their experiences in the camp. Sides depicts how the POWs banded together to stay alive, fighting Japanese authorities despite famine, tropical diseases, and torture.

Ghost Soldiers is the captivating narrative of an extraordinary expedition. It is harrowing, sad, and uplifting. It’s also a testimony to the human spirit, a story of incredible bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of adversity.

Book Author: Hampton Sides is a bestselling author of historical fiction and literary nonfiction. Hampton works for the Outside magazine as an editor-at-large. He resides in Santa Fe with his wife Anne, a native of Memphis with a BA in history from Yale.

Our Opinion: On Veteran’s Day 2018, I finished this book. This book brought these people to life for me. The author did a fantastic job of describing them.

8: Land of Wolves: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 15)

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  • Authors: Craig Johnson
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Publication Date: September 17, 2019
  • Pages: 335

Book Description: Longmire suspects suicide when a shepherd is discovered dead. However, the shepherd’s ties to the Extepares, a prominent Basque ranching family with a violent history, draw the sheriff into a complex investigation into a possible murder.

Book Author: Craig Johnson is the prolific writer of the Longmire mysteries, which are the inspiration for the smash Netflix original series Longmire. He has won the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award and the Spur Award for fiction from the Western Writers of America.

Our Opinion: In his first person narration, he used a turn of phrase that had me smiling. The terrain, like the wildlife and the local history, is a character in her own right, appearing and disappearing throughout the novel.

9: True Grit: A Novel

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  • Authors: Charles Portis
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
  • Publication Date: October 30, 2012
  • Pages: 240

Book Description: True Grit relates the narrative of Mattie Ross, who is fourteen years old when a coward named Tom Chaney shoots her father and robs him of his life, horse, and $150 in cash in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Mattie flees her home in order to avenge her father’s death.

Mattie chases the homicide into Indian Territory with the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available US Marshal. True Grit, like Mattie, is eccentric, cool, straight, and unflinching. This is a great American classic from a true legend.

Book Author: Charles Portis was an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters recipient from the University of Arkansas, which he received in 2018. He was a writer for The New Yorker and served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He was also the London bureau chief of the New York Herald-Tribune. He has also written four other books.

Our Opinion: Great narrative presented from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl who, despite his protests, insists on traveling with her bounty hunter after she finds him.

10: The Western Star: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 13)

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  • Authors: Craig Johnson
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Publication Date: September 5, 2017
  • Pages: 302

Book Description: The Western Star is one of Walt Longmire’s most complex novels, as it begins the conclusion of a long-running tale while also tying his past to the future for one or more future installments.

The tip and wink to Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is more than a passing reference; young Walt smartly acknowledges it throughout the narrative.

The reader learns about Walt’s role in solving what amounted to his first murder investigation, and how the repercussions of that case are about to influence his present with results as hilariously devastating as they were to his past, as the story unfolds in dribs and drabs.

Book Author: Craig Johnson is the prolific writer of the Longmire mysteries, which are the inspiration for the smash Netflix original series Longmire. He has won the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award and the Spur Award for fiction from the Western Writers of America.

Our Opinion: Following the conclusion of the previous novel. Craig Johnson seemed to have lost his mojo, and I was concerned. How incorrect he was. With the Western Star, he’s back to his best.

11: Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West

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  • Authors: Hampton Sides
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • Publication Date: October 9, 2007
  • Pages: 624

Book Description: The Army of the West marched through Santa Fe in the summer of 1846 on its way to capture and take the Mexican-claimed Western provinces. This land grab, fueled by the new “Manifest Destiny” mentality, would result in a decades-long fight between the US and the Navajos, the strongly resistant rulers of a vast stretch of mountainous desert wilderness. 

Kit Carson was a trapper, scout, and soldier who became famous for his exploits. Sides demonstrates how, despite knowing and respecting the Western tribes better than any other American, this uneducated mountain man readily obeyed orders that would ultimately destroy the Navajo country.

Book Author: Hampton Sides is a bestselling author of historical fiction and literary nonfiction. Hampton works for an Outside magazine as an editor-at-large. He resides in Santa Fe with his wife Anne, a native of Memphis with a BA in history from Yale.

Our Opinion: Reading this well-written, engaging biography of Kit Carson taught me a lot. The author goes into the tale, providing not just a full and exhaustive account of Carson’s incredible life, but also a wealth of information on the early (American) history of the Southwest.

12: Hondo: A Novel

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  • Authors: Zane Grey
  • Publisher: IndoEuropeanPublishing.com
  • Publication Date: January 15, 2019
  • Pages: 228

Book Description: He was a large, broad-shouldered man who knew the Apache ways and how to stay alive, imprinted by the desert’s howling winds. On a rural Arizona ranch, she was a single mother with a young son. Between Hondo Lane and Angie Lowe stood Vittorio, a warrior whose people were ready to revolt against the whites.

The pioneer woman, the gunman, and the Apache warrior are now embroiled in a love-war-honor drama.

Book Author: Pearl Zane Grey was an American dentist and author who was most known for his popular adventure books and stories linked with the Western genre in literature and the arts, and who glorified the American frontier.

Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, based on his books and short stories, has been made into 112 films, two television episodes, and a television series.

Our Opinion: This is a book that I would suggest. The story of the “lost valley,” the mystery, and the excellent descriptive passages make it well worth reading.

FAQs:

Who is the most accomplished Western author?

Elmer Kelton is known as “The Greatest Western Author of All Time.”

Define Western Book Genre.

Westerns are stories of cowboys, pioneers, and outlaws exploring the western frontier and taming the Wild West. They are set in the American Old West during the late eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries.

Name the first Western book.

Owen Wister’s 1902 novel “The Virginian” was the first widely-read Western fiction.

What leads to the Western genre?

Western fiction is set in the American West, mainly between the 1850s and the end of the nineteenth century.

Why aren’t Westerns as popular as they once were?

A major reason for this drop is because in the past, they had to build an entire western town only to make a film.

Name the longest Western series ever written.

The Slocum Westerns series is the longest-running Western series ever written, with almost 400 books published under the pen name Jake Logan. The novels are authored by a number of writers and all featured John Slocum as the main character.

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